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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The role of the SACP in the transition to democracy and socialism


THIS conference endorsed the main thrust of the original paper. However, there was a strong feeling that the brief section in the original ("The SACP since July 1990" see AC 1st quarter 1993, p.14-5) needed extending. In particular, more attention needed to be given to a more critical assessment of our organisational weaknesses. There was also a feeling that the independent role of the SACP was not sufficiently highlighted throughout the original paper.

1. The state of party organisation since July 1990

The organisational gains of our party, acknowledged in the paper, are basically correct. We need, however, to more starkly acknowledge our weaknesses. These include:

i. large numbers of party members are merely formally attached to theparty. They are not active members. Our party, however, is meant to be a party of activists.

ii. cadre development is sorely lacking iii. our organisational structures are weak. Many of our branches and districts do not function properly, and regional structures need to be strengthened.

iv. there is a lack of gender sensitivity in our organisation.

There is a need, in short, for ideological and organisational consolidation of the party.

Suggestions on how to deal with these challenges include:

i. we need a better break-down of the composition of our membership ii. we need a national organiser, or organisers.

iii. we need party schools at national, regional and local levels. The political bureau is requested to look at this.

2. The independent role of the SACP

The paper tends to dilute the role of the party. It needs to clearly set out the specific identity and independent role of the party. It needs to more clearly assert the vanguard role of the party.

Particular concerns regarding the party's independent role were:

i) The balance between building the SACP and the ANC and MDM structures

     It was recognised that it is important to build both the SACP and the ANC and MDM structures. If we are to have an effective ANC and MDM we need a strong party. We have to ensure that our members who are active in the ANC and MDM are also active in the SACP.

     SACP members active in the ANC and MDM have to respect the democratic decisions of those structures. This means that as representatives of those structures they may, at times, express views that are not necessarily those of the SACP. What is not acceptable is for SACP members to be the initiators of perspectives and policies in the ANC and MDM that are not consistent with SACP positions.

     Accountability and answerability of party comrades active in ANC and MDM structures is important but this should not be in a mechanistic way, a once-a-week report to the SACP on "what I have done in the MDM this past week". It should also certainly not assume the form of party members going into these structures with tight SACP mandates. But helping to strengthen allied democratic formations is a matter of legitimate concern for the party.

     Consideration should be given to ensuring that the SACP general secretary and, perhaps, some other officials, concentrate solely on SACP activities. Similar consideration should be given to regional chairpersons and secretaries.

     It is vital that forums should be created at national, regional and local levels, bringing together SACP members who are active in various sectors health, education, housing, economics, etc. This would help to consolidate and unify socialist perspectives in various sectors.

ii) The balance between specialised and general activities of the SACP

It is not a question of either specialisation or general activities. Both are necessary, a balance has to be struck between them. The SACP must, however, give a specifically socialist content to the general activities in which it takes part. This will give the SACP a specific identity and an independent profile.

This independence must also be asserted through the party's specialised activities. Examples of this would be our approach to internationalism, gender, the environment, transformation of armed forces, and our participation in support work for strike and other trade union struggles.

Our party's specific identity and independence need also to be consolidated with a consistent focus on political education and cadre development of our members.

3. Defining socialism

The basic approach in the Manifesto of our party and in the paper (see AC 1st quarter 1993, p.15-20) is correct. We do, however, need to be able to make these approaches more accessible.

There is also a need to pursue our debate and discussion on a number of areas. The political bureau is requested to prepare discussion papers on:

     the relationship of socialism to the market

     the economic requirements for socialism

     the different forms of social ownership of property.

Apart from these general points, some specific amendments were also suggested to this section of the original paper:

     It was felt that it needs to be more firmly underlined that multi-partyism is only one aspect of socialist democracy. On the same issue it is also important to say unambiguously that, while the right of parties to exist and to contest elections must be recognised, they will have to operate within the constitution and the legal parameters of a democratic dispensation.

     The many positive achievements of the former socialist countries need to be mentioned, without of course taking away the criticism of bureaucratic socialism.

Finally, the Conference felt that the sub-section entitled "Socialism in one country?" asks the wrong question. The question invites a simplistic Yes or No answer. While the sub-section raises useful points about the growth of socialism in the Soviet Union, we should not be asking such an abstract question. We need to assert our confidence in building socialism in South Africa, while giving due recognition to the unfavourable international situation.

The South African working class Generally this section (see AC 1st quarter 1993, p.20-4) was endorsed. It was felt, however, that the emphasis on the real and potential division within the working class needed to be more counter-balanced with factors fostering working class unity.

A Reconstruction Pact

This section (AC 1st quarter 1993, p. 25-8) was also endorsed. Clearly the reconstruction programme is a process, and its elaboration needs to be pursued. The conference also emphasised the paper's position that reconstruction must not be confined narrowly to the economic. Crucially, reconstruction must include reconstructing the state administration and its armed formations.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.